Elena Goode, who starred on As the World Turns from 2005 to 2008, is one to watch: with an indie movie starring role as a Dominican single mother in Elliot Loves, which has won several movie festival awards, this Boricua star is just starting to make her mark. We chatted with the New York native to get the scoop on her life, role, and being a Latina in the industry.
Can you tell me a bit about your background?
“I grew up in New York City, Harlem, and pretty much spent my whole life in the same neighborhood. When I was 20, I moved across the street from my parents, and didn’t move till last year! My dad is African-American and was born in Ohio and my mom is Puerto Rican and born and raised in New York."
How did you first get into acting?
“I think for most people it’s something that they sort of see and they just admire it. When I was 12 I went to this theater program and i was watching the older students perform this educational production, and I was amazed. It wasn’t just a hook into acting, but also into learning. When I was 13, I was in the theater program at my school and the head drama teacher told me that (the performing arts school) Laguardia was having high school auditions and that I should try out. I talked to my parents about it and my dad, who is a lawyer, didn’t think it was so wise for me to go in a creative direction so young, but my mom was like, ‘whatever, if she likes it let her do it!’ I got in and that school was so much more demanding at 14 than I could have really prepared for or expected. I spent four years there and at the end, they really do the seniors a favor by having us put on a big production where they invite managers and agents and scouts and you have the opportunity to meet with people in the industry, and from that I got a manager.”
You studied at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) and got a degree in fashion design. What drew you to study fashion instead of theater or acting?
“My parents really wanted me to be well-rounded, and I know, studying fashion doesn’t seem like that much of a difference in terms of industry – it’s still creative (laughs) but it was different and more like understanding business. But at the end of it, my teacher held this open forum where you sort of state your goals for when you graduate and what you want to do. Everyone talked about joining a design house or starting their own line and they’re being so passionate and so honest, and in my head I just knew I had to tell them, even though it was going to be really weird. And so I said, ‘I really, really want to be on a soap opera.’ And I swear, you could hear a pin drop. One person was giggling, and you knew they were thinking what the hell is this girl talking about. But I just knew that’s what I wanted to do. It ended up that I got an audition for As the World Turns, and I absolutely choked. But I tried not to get discouraged, and just saw it as another bump in the road. Six or seven months later they had another audition… and it went really well, and I was cast!”
Why soap operas? Most people would probably say they want to be an actress or a movie star. You don't hear "I want to be a soap opera star" very often.
“Right, it doesn’t hold a lot of esteem. A lot of students would say, ‘Oh well I want to be on Broadway’ or ‘I want to be in films’. No one ever said anything about soap operas. But I was raised on soaps, and it amazed me to see these actors on TV every single day, and I thought why would I want to be in something that lasts two hours, or even 30 minutes once a week. I knew that I was only going to be able to get the experience I wanted, and that I felt I needed, to grow.”
What was casting like for Elliot Loves? How were you introduced to the project?
“So this was interesting. I think in the beginning, though I don’t know if he’d ever admit this, the director was envisioning Zoe Saldana, whom I also really admire. When I got the breakdown for the part, I was coming close to the end of my contract (for As the World Turns). And I auditioned and I read for him and it felt really good, but I didn’t hear any feedback for six months. None. Finally, I get an email that says they’re getting funding and that they were doing a reading and whether I’d like to be involved. He still didn’t tell me that I got the part (laughs). It’s like when you’re in the early stages of seeing a guy and he asks you to hang out and you’re like, is this a date, should I dress up? (laughs). Finally, a few months pass and I get the official word. It took them a while to get the funding and there were some ups and downs, so it was a small ship of people who had been attached to the project from the start.”
Describe your character in the movie. What’s she like?
“The character I think is a woman that we might know, that we might see, that we might have in our family. She’s a young, single mom and unfortunately she didn’t get the love that she ever wanted or needed growing up, so she looks for that in relationships with men. The love that she gets is so momentary and so small, but to her, it’s good enough. She’s lacking that and craving that and she’ll take it, she’ll get it just a little bit at a time. And I think that’s something that many women can relate to on some level, where you’re in a relationship that you know isn’t necessarily good for you but there’s something that you crave or that you get so you keep sticking around. But because of that lack of love, it really defines and constructs the relationship with her son. She’s not able to give her son love, that unconditional warmth and love, because she’s never had it herself.”
What’s next on the radar?
“I just finished a callback and I’ll be really taking some time off for the summer and then it’s back to auditioning in September. This year in particular I’m really looking forward to pilot season in February.”
Who’s career would you love to emulate?
“Obviously there are bits and pieces of careers that I would love, but if I had to choose an entire arc, it would be Salma Hayek. The main reason is because she’s just been able to complete this fantastic range. She’s done comedy and drama at an extremely high level. Her quality spans genres and, on a personal level, what she gave to Frida (the film about Frida Kahlo), is something I’m so impressed by. She wore so many hats and just produced this great, great project.”
What else can you tell us about being a Latina in this industry and starting out?
“I think now with doors opening and people starting to see Latinas in different roles, it’s really a great time for us. We’re starting to see that our diversity is being recognized: that we are South American, Central American, Caribbean. It’s exciting to see Latinas in the media in all the shades that we are, representing all of the places that we’re from, and I’m excited about the future of Latinas in entertainment. Before, we thought the 'Latina siren' was as far as we could go, and before that that the 'Latina maid' was as far as we could go, and it seems like every decade, every few years we take a step – and I now see us taking leaps. We’re no longer tied to just these stereotypical characters or projects. We’re really starting to change how we’re being viewed, and it’s exciting. It’s exciting to see how far we’ve come.”